AN HORSE – Grey Area

By Jenny Henkelman


It’s a long way around the world. When indie pop outfit An Horse pulled into Winnipeg in September, 2009, Kate Cooper and Damon Cox were more than a little run-down-looking, a little weary—offstage. Onstage, of course, the guitar-drums duo were impeccable and compelling, both in the UW quad and, I’m told, at the Lo Pub the same evening. Touring solidly this past year in support of their critically acclaimed debut full-length, Rearrange Beds, the pair are about to take a hiatus to write a new record. “We’ve nearly finished the cycle of the record we’re on,” said lead vocalist and guitarist Cooper.

The cycle has taken them from their home of Brisbane, Australia to the bright lights of New York City and The Late Show with David Letterman. It’s taken them to Europe and on tour with Silversun Pickups, Death Cab for Cutie, and Canada’s own Tegan and Sara. “They’re fun, great fun, good friends of ours and very supportive of us,” Cooper said of the Quin sisters. “They’ve worked really hard to be where they are and they’re very authentic.”

Authentic is a word you could use to describe An Horse’s beginnings. Cooper and Cox were co-workers at the last indie record store in Queensland. They were playing in other bands, but as Cooper says, started “mucking around” and found a chemistry between them that worked. “It wasn’t intentional,” Cox said.

The store where they worked has now closed, largely because, Cooper says, “People don’t buy CDs anymore.” An Horse aren’t digital haters; “Digital music’s cool, if people buy it,” she said. But there’s a dark flip side to that. “More people have stolen our record than bought it,” she said, and Cox had the anecdote to illustrate. “Someone had registered a website with Kate’s name, put up our photos and our record to download for free. It was one of those websites where you have to do a survey or something. So someone was getting money somehow. It was really shit and disappointing. We fucking worked really hard on that record,” he said. And the insults don’t stop there. “We’ve had people at shows come up to us and say, ‘You guys are fucking great! Hmm, this is your album. I’m not going to buy it, I’m going to go home and download it for free.’”

Disheartening words for people trying to make a living playing music, but An Horse seems less angry and more frustrated when it comes to piracy. “They don’t realize it’s not cool,” Cooper said.

An Horse might be a bit down, but they’ll be back in the saddle soon—they’re currently on tour with Tegan and Sara (including a January stop in Winnipeg). Their songs have appeared on TV shows like Friday Night Lights and One Tree Hill. Big things are ahead for these two individuals who are passionate about music and making it, in the basement of a record store or on an arena stage. As for the name? Cooper said it originated with a grammatical inside-joke sweater, about the usage rules for words that start with “H” and the indefinite article. Could “An horse” really be correct? “It’s a grey area,” she said, with a shrug.

Right Through

By Taylor Burgess

It isn’t uncommon for young bands to be some combination of reckless and precise, but Winnipeg indie quartet Right Through seems to be the inverse of metal and hardcore bands, opting for the lo-fi sounds of ’90s indie rock instead. Rather than worrying about specific scales, these boys worry about harmonies and rocking hard.

The band started about two and a half years ago when Jesse Hill, 19, was playing in the Fo!ps, and Cole Woods, 18, and Rob Gardiner, 18, were in the Playing Cards.

Over a coffee in the Exchange on a soon-to-be bitter autumn evening, Jesse said, “We played shows with each other, and then we became friends, and we started jamming.”

Woods added, “And then Rob and I have been friends for a long time, been playing together in bands for a long time.”

“Well, he was just Rob’s brother,” said bassist Alan Gardiner, 16. We all cracked up.

Tease each other as they might, they still have faith in each other. Jesse said, “If I’m stuck with a song, that’s like the perfect time to bring it to Right Through, because I’m really confident in these guys’ abilities to take something I have and make it way better.” They can most definitely read each other, and when they play, they’re in the same mind-space. I picture them swinging their arms and pounding their guitars among mostly barren trees and snow-dusted ground , much like a world presented in their promo photos.

They’re careful not to–or perhaps it never even crossed their minds to–name-drop any influences, but their brand of loud-quiet-loud indie rock is somewhere between Pavement and post-rock, limited to two guitars, one bass and a drum kit.

Late in October, the band will be releasing their first full length album, titled the sun hot. They recorded it themselves, with the help of Jesse’s brother, getting all of the instruments done in a couple of days, but then doing the vocals over a much longer stretch–the next six months.

It was quite vexing for Jesse. “I’m a pretty big perfectionist, so just the fact that I was on my own recording my vocals, over and over again, I got really obsessive about it… It was just really stressful. And it probably would’ve been less stressful if… uh… we were in…”

“In a real studio?” Cole offers.

The CD release will be on October 23 at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church, a venue the band plays frequently. If you’ve never been there, you should also know it’s one of the better venues in the city. The sound carries like a dream, full and dramatic, and always compliments Right Through’s drastic shifts in dynamics, from slow strums and muttering to gut-wrenching and screaming. As Hill says, “We try to be as quiet as we try to be loud.”

Grizzly Bear

By Jeff Friesen

Photo by Tom Hines
Photo by Tom Hines

“In general, we’re all just feeling a bit more brighter,” says Christopher Bear, drummer and vocalist for Grizzly Bear, describing reasons for the sound of Veckatimest, the band’s latest release. It’s a record that sees the Brooklyn-based folk rockers take their melancholic, quasi-traditional Americana style and brighten it up. And why not feel brighter? In 2006 the group released Yellow House, their second full-length and first as a four-piece, to critical acclaim. This set off a whirlwind of unanticipated events: tours with the likes of TV on the Radio, Feist and, more recently, Radiohead as well as the release of another solid disc, the Friend EP, for which the band reworked a number of its older songs with grander instrumentation and production. Things are most certainly coming together for the band, and with Veckatimest it’s clear that the band’s enthusiasm and excitement is making for some blissful pop music.

Veckatimest features sonic textures and lyrical themes the band has yet to fully explore, but it doesn’t sound out of place among the band’s previous works. Grizzly Bear began as a solo project of guitarist/vocalist Edward Droste, who put together a moody and heartbreaking song cycle in 2004’s Horn of Plenty. It was a record that, backed for the most part by guitar and the occasional splash of drums and keyboards, portrayed the hidden beauty of broken and despondent relationships. Soon after its release he added Christopher Bear, multi-instrumentalist Chris Taylor and guitarist/vocalist Daniel Rossen to the mix, paving the way for the sounds found on Yellow House and the Friend EP, sounds which were much larger and more polished.

With these additions, the band faced new challenges and possibilities in regards to songwriting. “Starting Yellow House, a lot of the songs were fully written before we recorded,” Bear explains. “It was less focused on how we write together and more focused on how we record and arrange songs together. Friend came about because we were touring for a long time, and there were things we started to do live that were different than on the record and we wanted to capture that, just because after playing so many shows the band was really starting to change.” The band was in transition, shifting from its original DIY, bedroom-recording aesthetic to a fuller and more complex sound.

With Veckatimest this transition appears to be reaching its fullest potential yet. “I think we are more familiar with how we play live,” says Bear. “A lot of this stuff came about in a live setting. Songwriting wise, the songs were in everybody’s hands at a much earlier stage.” The band members were collaborating in new ways. “There really are a lot of different permutations of people writing on different songs, which gives Veckatimest sort of a different story. It certainly feels much more organic, a sort of growing together.”

This new approach to songwriting—giving each band member more say in the whole process—has resulted in a sound more stripped down than Yellow House’s yet still very complex. Whereas previously the band would add layer upon layer of instrumentation and vocals onto their tracks, the songs on the new record are sparser, allowing more space for the band’s primary instruments—guitar, piano, drums and voice—to work with. “With Yellow House, we continued to stack more onto each song. At times it felt like we were throwing the kitchen sink onto every song, which was really exciting for us at the time,” Bear recalls. “We were figuring out how we work together and what certain textures we were fit to explore. I think with Veckatimest we were using a lot of the same things we learned, but focusing it more, not afraid to do a song with just piano and voice, or just a single vocal track.”

For example, “Fine For Now” features instrumentation that is much simpler than what we have grown to expect from Grizzly Bear. It consists of nothing more than drums, guitar and vocals with some occasional splashes of keyboards. However, the way the band works together, playing on each other’s strengths, the song remains equally, if not more intense than much of the band’s previous material. Grizzly Bear has made good writing music that sounds simpler than it actually is, freeing the music from clutter.

This more open sound is evident in the record’s poppy moments, such as Rossen’s song “While You Wait for the Others,” the bouncy “Cheerleader” and the album’s centerpiece, “Two Weeks,” a stunning track that features Droste at his best, backed by captivating “whoa-oh-oh” harmonies. And it’s these pop hits that will first draw you in.

But it’s the album’s darker moments that really exhibit how creative the band is. On first listen you might say Veckatimest reveals the band becoming less melancholic. “There are some brighter tones to the record; there still is also some more moody material that feels more spacious,” says Bear. Songs such as the lead-off track, “Southern Point,” and “All We Ask”, both which feature string arrangements by Nico Muhly, hold the record together, demonstrating command of lyrical themes and sonic textures.

Perhaps it’s growing together as a band that’s informed much of the record’s lyrical content, as the songs, for the most part, deal with the struggles and joys inherent in the developing of relationships. On “All We Ask” the band chants, “I can’t get out of what I’m into with you.” On “Ready, Able” Ed Droste repeats, “Before we go, I want you to know, what I did.” Relationships are instrumentally or lyrically at the fore.

Veckatimest has been one of the most talked about and hyped-up records of the year and it’s well-deserved. Rarely does an album display a band collaborating so effectively—taking on specific themes and ideas without being afraid to leave things ambiguous in the end. It’s a fascinating listen.


By Patrick Michalishyn


Unless you’re living under floorboards or have your privacy setting ramped up on Facebook so you’re not bombarded with event invites, you probably know about Haunter. And if you don’t you should. I think they’re the best band in Winnipeg since Duotang, so let me tell you!
Haunter is Matt Williams and Jory Hasselmann on guitars, Marie-France Hollier on bass and Ryan Coates on drums. They play with the sound and fury of those old (and I use the term loosely) bands like Pavement, Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth: mulchy, naive experimentation comes together with a hooky pop sense to make something refreshing and highly addictive. Taking these risks has its rewards. The band is packing venues around Winnipeg, has played alongside Women, Land of Talk and Handsome Furs and has a new, fast-selling 7” out and a Western-Canadian tour with Mount Royal that’ll end with a showcase at NXNE.

Haunter blessed me with a meeting over beer and tequila at Carlos & Murphy’s just days before Hasselmann’s Italian sabbatical. Continue reading “Haunter”

Peter Bjorn & John

By Taylor Burgess
Their name will be forever linked to that song—you know, that whistling one—but Stylus readers should know Writer’s Block had more substance than one hit single. With jaw-dropping and catchy singles like “Objects of my Affection,” “Start to Melt” and “Amsterdam,” Peter Bjorn and John’s breakthrough album remains one of the better pop records of the decade. However, even many fans of the Swedish trio didn’t realize that it was their third release, not their first. And now they’re back with their fifth release, Living Thing, a return to pop after the quietly released and mostly instrumental Seaside Rock. PBJ’s drummer John Eriksson talked to us on the phone from his apartment about their path up until now, and what’ll likely happen in the near future.

Stylus: “Young Folks” was a song that popped up everywhere in 2006 and 2007. It was in commercials, on the internet and even on Top 40 radio. How do you feel about it when you hear it now?
John Eriksson: We heard it at an afterparty the other night, and we… we were so surprised at how good it sounded. [Laughs.] You know, when you hear a good song through a sound system of that quality… We just hadn’t heard it in a while. We felt so proud of it.
Stylus: Before you play it live, do you feel that your fans are expecting something?
JE: Well, I’m not really sure what our fans want. Fans go to see for different reasons, and that depends on the band. Some people watch certain bands to be surprised, and some fans go to see the same old show.

Stylus: What kind of band would you rather be: one that surprises or plays the same set over and over?
JE: I hope we surprise people… I mean surprises are good in everyday life. They’re what make everyday life fun. And besides, we can’t be AC/DC. [Laughs.]

Stylus: How have you guys dealt with your fame since the release of Writer’s Block?
JE: When everything happened, there was also a lot of surprises every day, and we didn’t even think about it. We’re not for the fame, or to meet celebrities. The only difference is that we’re doing this full time now.

Stylus: Living Thing has a noticeably stripped-down sound to it. How did that come about?
JE: We wanted to make music with lots of space in it—something that sounded like a ghost house, like it was spooky. So we didn’t try to take away from our sound, we just thought it was more important to make the drums and beats sound really good. Thing is, we tried to have a stripped-down sound with Writer’s Block but we just didn’t do it.

Stylus: Were you influenced by any particular artist for this album?
JE: This time we were listening to ’80s pop, but last time we were listening to a lot of ’90s indie rock.

Stylus: So what are Peter Bjorn and John’s plans heading forward?
JE: Well, first, we’ve got one year of touring. And then after we’ll get together and talk about making something different. We’ll probably just get together and record something when we’re drunk. [Laughs.]